While musical and spiritual inspiration can come from anywhere, in the new age/ambient realm, one of the most common touchstones is nature, with compositions and performances passionately expressing just how our individual and common humanity is enhanced by our connection to everything from lush, flora filled fields and majestic mountainous landscapes to the calming yet often roaring sea.
Eyeing the luminescent artwork of famed harpist/composer Kirsten Agresta-Copely’s second (and perfectly titled!) album Aquamarine, we see a dramatic, luminescent confluence of roaring surf and foam on the shore – which may lead listeners to think it's “just another” ode to our vast oceans and the many metaphors we can create to apply to the vicissitudes of our lives.
With seafaring song titles like “I Am Water,” “Glass Octopus,” “Deep Blue World” and “Surfacing,” Kirsten’s follow-up to her multiple award winning 2020 debut Around The Sun is indeed a soulful reflection and meditation on the vast, seemingly endless mysteries that exist on from the crest of the waves to many fathoms below. Aquamarine is also a thoughtful, beautifully manifested tribute to her dear recently departed mother, who taught Kirsten to play and love music and introduced her to and helped cultivate her enduring love for the ocean.
In this day and age when music is often consumed via streaming and/or specific tracks on thematic playlists, it’s essential listeners get the physical CD package to get the full musical and extra-musical experience of Aquamarine as its creator intended. Beyond the sumptuous imagery and refreshing and colorful graphic design, we’re treated to Kirsten’s poetic heartfelt insights into the music, driven by sweet memories of her mother and creative milestones in her own life – which ultimately led the classically trained harpist to a career that’s taken her all over the world and included performing with icons like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Enya, The Roots, Lady Gaga and Andrea Bocelli, among others.
While sharing how her musical journey began, Kirsten introduces us to her mom, a onetime Miss Michigan who went on to host a Hollywood and Broadway themed radio and TV show and ultimately served as a piano teacher and vocal and choral conductor in Michigan public schools. She began teaching Kirsten piano when she was only a year and a half old and bought her daughter a small troubadour harp when she was five. Besides music, the one constant in the mother daughter relationship was their love of the sea, starting with childhood holiday visits to Tampa, FL and culminating in long walks by the water, whenever they could be together when Kirsten began her hectic touring life.
The idea of the seashore as a calming center in a whirlwind life, a place where they could share stories and dreams while contemplating the mysteries of the deep, comes across magnificently in the pieces Kirsten composed for Aquamarine. Learning that she wrote them throughout her beloved mother’s prolonged decline and peaceful transition helps us listeners grasp their personal cathartic value for her, while at the same time allowing us to apply our own heartfelt emotions and life circumstances to them.
As with Around The Sun – which deservedly won Outstanding New Age Performance at the 2023 Grand Prix Music Awards and the Silver Medal from the Global Music Awards – Kirsten’s music on Aquamarine is best enjoyed, appreciated and experienced as a spirit caressing, free-flowing straight through immersion from the hypnotic, gently strummed ambient title track through the spacious and haunting, chamber-tinged “Into the Mist, which conveys a profound sense of wonder and mystery – and by extension, gratitude.
Though it’s the final track, the many moods Kirsten creates with its stunning swirl of harp and the dual string virtuosity of Dave Eggar (cello) and Maggie Gould Wilson (violin) make it one of the most compelling entry points into the larger experience. Other favorite individual gems include the sparkling underwater deep dive/exploration “Glass Octopus,” the lilting, classically influenced “Surfacing” (featuring the dreamy, deeply emotional cello of Tess Remy-Schumacher, and the darkly seductive, full-on relaxation of “Coralline.”
Rising above all the glowing reviews Kirsten received for Around the Sun were the words her mother shared about the album: “Kirsten’s new compositions all seem to lift the listener out of their everyday lives and into another realm.” The same can now be said about Aquamarine, a tribute without parallel that on one level speaks to any of us who may be mourning a loved one and learning to treasure life more through our grief process – and on another connects to anyone who feels a profound connection to the divine mystery through nature and particularly the sea.
Now that her mom is in another realm, it is the artist’s fondest wish that her mother can appreciate Aquamarine as well. From my recent connective experience with my own recently departed mom, I can emphatically tell her: Yes, please rest assured. She’s listening and loving it, eternally happy and proud that her love lives on in such a way.